Lord Jagannath’s abode in Puri , Odisha is one the most sought-after destinations. The three deities Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra adorn the sanctum sanctorum which is thronged by millions of devotees from all over the country and outside. While the history of the temple is generally known, the more enthralling aspect of the daily rituals of the deities that take place inside the temple has an interesting narrative.
The ‘nitis’ as they are called beginning from early morning till late night are symbolic of the various routines of a human being. A temple servitor, referred to as the ‘Bhitachha Mahapatra’, a Pratihari checks the main entrance after which the door to the inner sanctorum is opened. The sanctorum is then cleaned up thoroughly and prepared for the rituals to follow, which is marked by priests performing aarti. Sacred hymns are sung in devotion to the Lords, along with playing an auspicious music known as ‘Mangalavadyam’.
The three deities are then cleaned and the robes they wear are removed. They are given a new kind of dress to wear, often called ‘tadapa’. Like human beings the deities go through the drill of cleaning their teeth followed by bathing.
These activities are done symbolically by the priests who enact the cleaning ritual of the deities by sitting in front of the mirrors, which reflect the deities. They pour water on the mirrors as a sign of giving them a bath.
After the deities are cleaned they are adorned with fresh clothes, and ornaments. Only after completion of these rituals, the devotees are allowed to go near the deities for a darshan which is called Sahana Mela.
The Kitchen is now getting ready and is lit with fire, indicating that the preparation of the daily meal will start. Termed as ‘Rosa homa’, the kitchen is filled with the effervescence of the Bhoga including sweetmeats prepared for the Lords.
Gopal Ballabha, as it is termed, is served to the deities consisting of fruits and curds as breakfast. Around 15 items are prepared with milk to be served to the deities at 9:00 a.m.
One of the main meals called ‘Rajabhoga’ is served to Lords at 10.a.m. Several dishes, mainly sweet prepared from black gram, are served to the deities. Some of these dishes are Bada Kanti, Sana Kanti, Hansakeli, Jhili, Kakatua etc. As a custom, the deities are offered betel nuts after every meal.
The dresses for the deities are again changed at the time of the next ritual called Madhyanna Dhupa. This is the time when a routine meal for the Lords is cooked. Prepared in large quantities, the food is then served and sold to visiting pilgrims. This mid-day meal for the Lords is offered at 1.00 p.m. in the afternoon. The meal is mainly prepared from pulses, rice and vegetables besides a variety of other items. Various sweet items served to the deities during the ritual include different types of pithas (cakes) and sweets native to the region of Odisha like Arisas, Kakara, Anna rasabali etc . After the deities finish their meal, they enjoy some leisure time to themselves and take a nap. Cots are kept for them where they take rest which is called pahuda.
The next ritual, or Sandhya Dhupa is marked by serving several kinds of sweets to the Lords, such as Kanta-Pulli, Takua, Bhogo Pitha, Gotali, Kakara, Khuruma, Amalu . The rituals that are performed during this time are elaborate, marked by performance of special aartis. The sanctorum is open to the visitors.
The deities again remove their dresses, followed by applying sandalwood paste. They are adorned with flower crests, garlands, and holy Basil (also known as Tulsi) around 10 p.m. The ritual is known as ‘Badasinghar Besa’. It is considered to be the most important decoration of the Lords. They are made to wear silken clothes, termed as ‘Khandua’, adorned with sacred Sanskrit verses of renowned poet Jayadeva. This decoration is associated with sleep and slumber.
The prasad, or bhoga, is offered around 11:30 at night. The day ends with the last ritual of the day which includes pushpanjali, khatasejalagi, gana,pahuda, muda, and soda. The conches are placed in front of Ratnavedi. Three green coconuts, coupled with some betel nuts and flowers are placed close to the deities. This is indicative of their sleep time. In the good old days Devdasis used to sing and dance before the Lords to entertain them and lull them to sleep.
The doors are then locked and sealed. At this point no one is present at the temple, except those who are required, such as the guards. This, in short, concludes the daily rituals of the three deities. There is a saying that 56 or Chappan bhoga are offered to the deities during the rituals throughout the day.
In the winter months, at the time of Odhan Sashti, in ‘Margasira’ month till the month of ‘Magha’ and upto ‘Phagu Dasami’, the deities are made to wear warm garments, called ‘Godhalagi.
The deities are also given a retouch with paints, on Wednesdays and Thursdays to bring back the lost shine. This ritual is called ‘Banakalagi’ or ‘Srimukh Singar.'